That is what I called him. The word effortlessly and thoughtlessly rolled off my tongue, the only label that came to mind as my husband admitted, unrepentantly, he was with and committed to another woman.
Undeniably we had our problems. Major ones. A lack of mutual respect, divergent goals, disinterest in each other’s lives. An all around distaste for one another. But I never thought he would be unfaithful. Not in a million years. Not this guy. Not someone I knew so well, for so many years. Yet, as I looked my adulterer husband directly in the eye, I was faced with reconciling a man’s entire life with his recent behavior. Yes, in my estimation he had done something reprehensible. But did that categorically make him a bad person?
It was recently posed to me that if character is defined by our actions, then my husband is, by default, a bad guy. Even as I write these words, I recoil at the thought, cringe at such an absolute notion of humanity. The statement represents a line in the sand, a classification of black and white, of good versus evil, and is a concept with which I am adamantly in conflict and wrestle to understand.
Hermann Hesse, in his twentieth century novel, Siddhartha, tells the allegorical tale of a man struggling to comprehend such dichotomy. Siddhartha, a member of the high Brahmin caste in India, feeling so unsettled in his teachings, renounces his scholarly life to wander in search of peace and enlightenment. His journey, which leads him to a life of asceticism, greed and hedonism, and then back again to asceticism, illustrates that a man’s life is the sum total of his experiences, and that it is in the course of searching where true meaning lies.
During the 26 years I have known my ex-husband, I witnessed this man work his mind and his body to its core providing for his family’s wellbeing. I watched him hold his children in his arms minutes after they were born, and revel in their accomplishments as they reached milestone after milestone and achieved their own hard-earned goals. I have seen the way he once looked at me, with only love in his eyes, and how he bared his soul when he was vulnerable.
Circumstances are different now. Yet history remains written in stone.
Every day our interactions impact others. With even so little as a glance, our essence is left behind, and we live on forever in someone else’s memory. The longer we interact, the more memories we create and amass. Our lives become a collective, and how others perceive us is our undeniable legacy.
We all have moments in our lives that plague us. Moments we wish we could erase, those haunting whispers that torment us in our most quiet hour. Committing adultery is the worst kind of betrayal. It is cowardly and spineless, and a personal affront to the person we once cared for and protected. The day I learned my husband lied to me, scorned me, my innocence was corrupted forever. But I will not allow his actions to steal my heart, to rob me of the life we once lived together, in both good times and in bad.
Yesterday I wished my ex-husband a happy birthday because, I believe, his 44 years are worthy of acknowledgment. He has done things in his life of which he may now, or one day in time, not be proud. We all have. But he has also positively affected the lives of many, mine included.
For whatever reason, his journey has brought him to where he is today. He makes his arguments, though I may not agree or necessarily understand them. But it is not my place to do so. I am on my own path, in large part because of the time we shared. To arbitrarily define my ex-husband, to negate the cumulative impact of our lives on one another, would mean staying anchored to the follies of our pasts and denying my own newfound freedom.
And that is not something I am willing to do.
This article appeared on the Huffington Post March 29, 2014.